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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS AND THEIR CULTURE OF PASSING


There was an outstanding article in the USA Today this week written by Sam Amick on the value of passing the ball for Golden State and it's incredible value to the culture of the Warriors.  You can (and should) read the entire article here.

I've long spoke about how you play being a big part of your culture.  Your system of play and it's level of execution says a lot about who you are as a coach and in turn your team as a unit.  

The first part of that piece is practice.  The make up and execution of practice impacts players and how they feel about playing and their level of belief in how prepared they are going into a game.  On the collegiate level, recruiting often comes down in part of how a team plays.  On the professional level, free-agents will at times gravitate to a style of play.

In an era that becomes increasingly difficult to promote team play, to have one of the best teams in the NBA base their success on number of passes gives all of us coaches hope.  

A few excerpts include the following:

“Ball movement will forever be superior.”
-Shaun Livingston

Ever since Kerr made the move from TNT analyst to the Warriors bench, when he saw the glaring lack of ball movement in that final season under former coach Mark Jackson and told the team’s ownership how he would fix it, this has been their ethos. So much so, in fact, that it all started with a magic number: 300.

Pass the ball at least that many times during the course of a game, he told them, and the offense will hum. For Kerr, who won five titles while playing for San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and then-Chicago coach Phil Jackson, these were the lessons learned that he had to pass on.

“If you have shooting — if you have great shooting — then the more ball movement the better, because you have guys coming off screens and … you want to make the defense have to defend for long stretches rather than just one pass and a shot,” Kerr explained to USA TODAY Sports recently. “So we looked at the passing totals, and … (300) was a really key number for us.

"I just said I want the ball to move. That’s always how I’ve seen the game, and if you have Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) on your team and the ball is moving, it’s fairly obvious that it’s going to be hard to defend. So we just kind of came up with that number.”

Amick backed his story up with the following facts:

After ranking last in passes per game (243.8) during the regular season before Kerr’s hiring and finishing 12th in offensive rating despite already having three of their four current All-Stars in Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, they have had the league’s best offense in three of the past four seasons while finishing second in offensive rating once. During that span, the Warriors’ passes-per-game mark has ranged from 306.6 to 323.5.

The Warriors’ only two losses this postseason have come in the only games in which they passed the ball fewer than 300 times (256 against San Antonio in Game 4 of the first round; 295 against New Orleans in Game 3 of the second round). In all, they lead all playoff teams in passing (323.2; Rockets 15th at 227.5).

Green and Curry have been first and second among the Warriors, respectively, in passes made for the past three regular seasons.

As Green is quick to point out, passing alone is not enough. The Warriors at their best are like a basketball version of the Blue Angels, with players darting to and fro while stopping only briefly to set a few screens along the way. But when you combine the movement with the passing and some of the best scorers the game has ever seen, then push the tempo, it’s the kind of thing even Kerr couldn’t have dreamt of when he put this program into place.


Monday, April 30, 2018

EXECUTION IS STRATEGY

It's well chronicled of my passion for reading.  It has made us better in so many ways from organization to leadership to team building to personal growth.  Every now and then I come across a passage that creates a "wow" effect for me.  I found such one in Tom Peter's new book "The Excellence Dividend."  Two of Mr. Peter's book have really resonated with me -- "In Search of Excellence" and "The Pursuit of Wow!" so I have been looking forward to reading his newest book.

Early in Section I on Execution, Mr. Peter's quoted Fred Malek whom he'd worked with in the White House in the early 70's:


"Execution is strategy"

It hit me like a thunderbolt in the strength of it's message in only three words.  My years of coaching have brought me to a realization of the importance of the process.  Studying some of the best from John Wooden to Nick Saban has taught me that the process is more important than the result because it is what leads to the result.

As Coach Don Meyer would say, "It's not what we do, it's how we do it."

As coaches, we sometimes get lost in complete big picture thinking without enough or even any thought to the details involved in success.  Excellence is in the details -- our ability to execute those details.

I read an article last week on Houston Rockets associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik who has an reputation as a great defensive coach.  Here is a quote about his work:
“He will break down a defensive drill like I’ve never seen before,” Bzdelik’s then assistant coach Scott Brooks tells me. “Where your left hand [goes], where your right hand, where your left foot, where your right foot, where your chest, what you’re thinking of. He has it down to every minute detail and he’s really great with technique and being able to explain. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around.”
Sometimes we as coaches consider a defensive breakdown drill as part of our means of improving execution -- and it can be.  But it was interesting to read that Bzdelik breaks down the breakdown drill.  That's a commitment to execution.

It's not enough to have a game plan or a goal.  We must be detailed and intentional in the path we take to achieving it.

In the book "Practice Perfect," by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, make the following observation on the legendary John Wooden:
"Though we remember him for the championships, what ultimately made Wooden great was practice."
"Practice Perfect" also brings out the point that we can sometimes lose our focus on excellence by putting too much stock into hard work when it comes effectiveness.  They quote Wooden as saying "Bustling bodies making noise can be deceptive."  

And then there is one of my favorite Wooden quotes I often share with our teams: "Don't mistake activity for achievement."

It is critical that we are intentional in all that we do in striving for excellence.  If we want proper execution, we must be intentional in the detail we put into our work.  We shouldn't expect cutting and screening to be effective during a game in moments of distress if we aren't demanding proper execution at all times in practice.

Quite possibly the best that's ever coached in the NFL understands the important of practice and the role it plays in developing execution.  When the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick was told by a media member of all the success their team had accomplished in terms of wins and championships and then asked what would be the next goal for him he followed with:
"I'd like to go out and have a good practice today.  That would be at the top of the list."
Belichick understands the importance of practice, habits and execution.

Nick Saban is also a big believer in the importance of the process and brings the value of the mental aspect to execution:
"When researches compared whether process or analysis was more important to making good decisions, they discovered that process mattered more than analysis by a factor of six.  But the reverse was not true - superb analysis is useless unless the decision process gives it a fair hearing."
I often meet with my players do discuss their "why."  I want to know about their dream and visions for the future.  But I always tell them they have to dream in details.  It does no good to dream of playing professional basketball if you don't have a deliberate plan to execute -- all the way how you spend the minutes of your day -- and that must be part of the dream as well.

I'll close with yet one more thought from Coach Wooden on the importance of details and execution:
"Races are won by a fraction of a second, National Championship games by a single point.  That fraction of a second or a single point is the result of relevant details performed along the way."






Tuesday, April 17, 2018

THE ONE GUARANTEED TRAIT OF THOSE COACHES WITH SUSTAINED SUCCESS

The one thing that I have learned through decades of coaching is that there is no one set way to teach and coach and be successful.  Time has shown us that there are as many ways to be successful as there are committed coaches to their philosophies.  There is no set defensive style of play or offensive attack that is better than the other.  You can push the ball in transition or walk it up and find positive results.  The use of video and scouting reports are also as varied as the number of programs using them.

There is one constant however for those who have sustained success -- they are all continual learners.  They find time to grow their knowledge of the game as well as to improve in areas of communication and relationships.  To remain the same is to fall behind.

It was interesting today that I got an email from my mentor Dale Brown that talked about one of our games great coaches in John Wooden and how he approached learning throughout his career:

How about Coach Wooden actually took a psychology class so that he might be able to communicate with his student-athletes at a higher level.

He believe in watching the practices of other sports and developed some of his time management thoughts from Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy.

It didn't bother coach to reach to UCLA rival coach Pete Newell to talk about defense.  (This also speaks to Coach Newell in his willingness to do so as well)

As did Don Meyer, when Coach Wooden as speaking at clinics, he would arrive early and stay late and be an avid note taker of the other speakers.

Each off-season he would select a phase of the game and pour himself into over the summer.

He was also a ferocious reader that once read the dictionary from cover to cover to improve his vocabulary.

Want to be successful over the long haul?  What your plans this summer to grow YOUR game!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TRANSACTIONAL OR TRANSFORMATIONAL


I’ve spend the last few weeks catching up on my reading — specifically articles I’ve saved off the internet or received via Google Alerts.  Later I’ll blog about my system of reading from these various sources.

However, today I enjoyed reading an outstanding article on Virginia men’s head basketball coach Tony Bennett.  The article was written by Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and discusses the question for coaches of whether they want to be transactional or transformational.  It very well written by Woody and I strongly suggest you click her to read it in its entirety.

Here are some key thoughts from the article:

As Woody starts the article…

A college basketball coach has to make a decision.

Does he want to be transactional or transformative?

A transactional coach tells players what to do and expects them to do it, no questions asked. If they don’t perform as the coach directs, players often are yelled at, belittled and demeaned.

In a perfect world, the transactional method shouldn’t be successful. If you think it’s not, you haven’t been paying attention to the sidelines of college basketball games.
Than Woody takes a look at the transformative method used by Bennett…
If the players buy in, the coach can ask what they’re seeing in games and practices, ask them if what he’s asking them to do is working, and listen if they answer, “No.”

That’s transformative.

“He teaches us off-the-court lessons every day, through basketball and without basketball,” sophomore point guard Ty Jerome said. “On the court, we have our way and do what we do and everyone’s bought in. I think that helps him be a transformative coach. Then he can ask us, and the whole staff, ‘What do you see on that and on this?’

“It’s easier because we’re all so united. That’s a credit to him, to his humility. He could easily be, ‘I have all these wins. We’re going to do it this way.’ ”

Don’t be mistaken. Transformative is not new-age, touchy feely. Bennett coaches 
basketball, a very physical game in a highly competitive league, the ACC. At Virginia, there is no room for negotiation concerning effort, defense, toughness and teamwork. You are fully engaged in all four or you are fully on the bench.

“I come from a unique perspective,” Bennett said. “Yeah, I’m a little more old school. There was a time when you’d come home and things weren’t going well, and it always was your fault. The question was, ‘Why aren’t you listening to the coach?’

“Well, today it can be a little different. I played for my father. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he believed in me. He thinks I can be really good, and I can trust him. It’s built in. He’s my dad. I realized that was almost the secret sauce.
Again, I strongly suggest you read the entire article.


Monday, April 9, 2018

ALABAMA/GEORGIA FOOTBALL AND THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCIPLINE


There was an excellent write up by Bruce Feldman at SI.com recently where he looked at the football teams at Alabama and Georgia and how those two programs defined discipline. Feldman writes about the importance of discipline and how it specifically has a direct bearing on an organization's culture.  You can read the entire article here.

A few takes aways were the definitions of discipline from members of the staff:

“The ongoing definition around here is to do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to be done—all of the time,” says Alabama’s head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, who has been with Saban for all six of his national titles, including his first while at LSU. “That is Coach Saban’s definition, and it is ingrained into my head.”

Crimson Tide offensive line coach Brent Key arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2016. His definition: “Doing the right thing all the time, and doing the right thing when you don’t want to do it.” Key, 39, says his definition of the word has changed from his younger days, “when discipline meant being punished or spanked. But to me now, discipline is internal.”

“Discipline is accountability,” says Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, Saban’s ace recruiter since 2015 who was promoted when Tennessee hired away Jeremy Pruitt this winter. “You have to consistently operate to our standard on a daily basis, and that’s where players and coaches hold each other accountable and continue to prepare in the game manner, no matter who we’re playing.”

Feldman also talked about the importance of making sure that recruits knew of the importance of discipline and what they would be getting into:

“During the recruiting process we are very up-front with them, and those guys are smart enough to know what they are getting themselves into,” Burns said. “In my position specifically [Burns has since moved to an off-field role after 11 years as running backs coach], they know that we’re going to play a lot of guys, so I want them to understand that, and to come to work every day and not let that affect them. We have been really fortunate to have the right personalities to do that. We’ve always had one guy that sets the tempo in terms of what it takes to be a running back at the University of Alabama and not to be selfish. Play your role. Take it very seriously. Be ready for the moment. When I first got there, it was Glen Coffee, and he took care of Mark Ingram, and then Mark took care of Trent Richardson, and then Trent took care of Eddie, and Eddie Lacy took care of T.J. [Yeldon].”

The interesting aspect that Feldman shared from the Georgia staff was the attention to detail -- even thought every day meetings to make sure they were all on the same page:

“No detail is left un-talked-about,” Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney says. “We dot every I and cross every T. It sometimes might be a little uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s gonna be talked about. Kirby is diligent as heck about all that.”

Awkward as they may be at times, these conversations become the norm. “It’s had every day,” Georgia quarterbacks coach James Coley says. “I always felt like when you walked in staff meetings, you were there to get your players better. Everybody’s trying to get better, but now you’re saying to yourself, ‘How can I get better in this staff meeting?’ Because you really get better as a coach. Coach Smart has done a great job helping us all get better as coaches."


Thursday, March 22, 2018

GETTING TO US BY SETH DAVIS IS A MUST READ


I don’t take lightly the responsibility of writing a book review — I know how valuable money and time is to us all.  But "Getting To Know Us” by Seth Davis is one of the best books I’ve read in the past several year for our profession.  Davis picks eight outstanding coaches and dedicated a chapter to their journey.  Each chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  We learn from these Hall of Fame coaches the struggles they went through, and in some cases still battle, to maintain a level of excellence.

You will learn that each coach is different in so many ways yet each successful -- which is one of the most important lessons we can learn in doing what we do.

There is insight into coaching, teaching, recruiting, motivating, leadership and overcoming adversity.  You read about the battle to balance your career and your family.  The stories from the coaches themselves, the players that played for them and assistants that worked for them are priceless.

Above all, the title "Getting To Us" implies, we learn the methods and philosophies of how they turn players into teams.

Below I’m listing a short take away from each chapter but I can say strongly enough that this is a book you need to purchase and when you do, break out the red pen or the highlighter.

Urban Meyer

The take away from this chapter was the importance of having a shared vision with everyone involved in your program.  As Tom Herman said:

“The message never deviates with him.  Everybody from the strength staff to the video staff to the equipment staff to academics and nutrition — everybody who toughes the players there at Ohio State gets the same message and the same expectations and the same goals.  I think that’s very rare.”

Tom Izzo

We often talk about the importance of communicating and connecting with our players and it was obviously a huge priority for Coach Izzo.

When Michigan State was building a new office and practice facility for its basketball teams in 2002, Izzo had a novel idea: He wanted his office to have no door. “I thought it would set a tone,” he says. “But I couldn’t do it because of fires codes.

“There were multiple times after a game when I would text him at one or two in the morning.  He would always text me right back,” said Denzel Valentine.  “From day one, he creates a family atmosphere and makes it known that he cares about you as in individual.”


Mike Krzyzewski

As a disciple of Don Meyer, we were taught to plan your week on Sunday and the next day the night before.  It was interesting to read Coach K’s view on this.

Davis wrote: To this day, before he goes to bed each night, he maps out his plan for the next day.

“I think it comes form West Point, where you lay you’re your uniform the night before.  It helps you make effective use of your time. It gets me excited because I’m going to do something I’ve planned to do, what I love to do, and it’s different every day.”


Jim Harbaugh

The very first paragraph of this chapter grabbed me and detailed how competitors want to be in the mix regardless of their role:

Davis writes: He couldn’t take not competing,  It killed him to stand still.  So what if he was a rookie quarterback with a bright future?  He needed to get into the game — now.  So Jim Harbaugh went to his head coach with a strange request: Put me in on special teams so I can cover punts and kickoffs.  “My first reaction was, ‘Are you crazy?” Mike Ditka told me.  “Be he was serious.  He just wanted to contribute."

And Ditka actually used him for a short time on his special teams.


Jim Boeheim

One of the things that Davis brought out about Boeheim was how he handled wins and losses:

“It’s all about losing.  When we win, I’m pretty happy for about an hour, and then I’m thinking about the next game.  When we lose, I’m thinking about that game until we get to the next one.”

Geno Auriemma

In this section, there was a fascinating insight about Geno on self-doubt that helps motivate him to be the best and in turn push his team to greatness.

“I live with self-doubt every day, so I can emphasize with the players I’m coaching,” Auriemma says.  “I know these guys are filled with self-doubt.  How can they not be?  You’re putting yourself out there in front of thousands of people.  You’re being judged and you’re eighteen, nineteen years old.  So you’re thinking, 'Am I good enough to do this?  What happens if I play shitty?'  So this is part of daily life.  I try to tell them, ‘It’s good for you to have self-doubt, because it forces you to look at yourself objectively.”


Doc Rivers

Something profound in this chapter was what his father would always tell him growing up:  “There will be no victims in this house.”

There was also a key portion of this section where Doc talked about what he had learned from Pat Riley including:

“I learned from Riley that the key to coaching is to get a group of players to believe there’s one agenda, and that you have the same agenda as them.  If you can do that, your players are going to do whatever they can for you.”

Brad Stevens

This may have been the best chapter in the book in terms of my take aways.  David detailed how Stevens and his philosophy evolved including a leadership seminar class he took his senior year that introduced him to the philosophy of Robert K. Greenleaf.

“I remember thinking, this makes sense. Do you want to be around somebody who lifts you up, or somebody that breaks you down?  That’s why whenever people ask me what’s your leadership style, my answer is ‘It should be you.’  There’s an authenticity that is needed for leadership.  If it’s not real, then it’s not going to work.”


Dabo Swinney

Dabo’s story is an amazing one — from his walking on at Alabama (he called it “crawling on) to his leaving football in a variety of jobs until finding his way back to the profession.

One good insight to his message is the utilization of repetition in story telling:
Davis wrote: He is a meticulous planner who tells the same stories, uses the same phrases, and harps on the same messages, even if his guys have heard it all a thousand times. 

“That’s something I learned from Coach Stallings,” says Swinney.  “I spent seven years with him, and every year I’d be like, ‘Here comes the Mama Don’t Fret  story.  Here come the Ben Hogan story.’ That’s how he protected his culture.  When you say it enough so your players can repeat it, that’s when you know they’re getting it.”